A*STAR Release: New Cell Type Discovery Reveals Potential Role In Immune Protection

Scientists in Singapore discover new immune cell type, which could be harnessed for immunotherapy and vaccines

SINGAPORE, 16 May 2016 – Scientists at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore have identified a new immune cell type, which could be a new target for immunotherapy treatments and vaccines. The research team led by Dr Florent Ginhoux at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) discovered a new member of the dendritic cell family, which they have named pre-DC. Their findings were published in leading scientific journal Science on 4 May 2017.

Dendritic cells are the sentinels of the body’s immune system. They detect and assess the threats posed by foreign pathogens to the body and decide whether to initiate an immune response. As such, dendritic cells have great therapeutic potential to manipulate the immune system. The breakthrough discovery of the pre-DC population, so named because these cells are progenitors to mature dendritic cells, is set to revolutionise research in the field.

Notably, pre-DC display properties that are similar to another dendritic cell type, human plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC). The latter supposedly protects the body against virus infections. Flow cytometry analysis revealed that pre-DC can always be found in what was originally thought to be solely pDC populations. This discovery calls into question existing knowledge that pDC alone are entirely responsible for initiating an anti-virus response in the immune system, and has important repercussions for anti-viral treatments and therapies.

Dr Florent Ginhoux, Senior Principal Investigator at SIgN, said: “Little was previously known about how dendritic cells originate in the immune system, apart from the fact that they likely arise in the bone marrow. For the first time, we have mapped the whole dendritic cell lineage, and in the process uncovered a new dendritic cell type. This was done through a combination of single cell transcriptomics, mass cytometry and high-dimensional flow cytometry, techniques that enabled us to study the development of dendritic cells in unprecedented detail.”

The SIgN researchers anticipate that their findings will be crucial in identifying dendritic cell targets for specific therapeutic applications, such as the development of next-generation vaccines or immunotherapy treatments.

For more information, please refer to the paper “Mapping the human DC lineage through the integration of high dimensional techniques”, published online by the journal Science on 4 May 2017.

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